"Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale" Review
Review: Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
Score: 85 out of 100.
As a person with a degree in English, I’ve spent a lot of time working customer service in some capacity or another. Because of that fact, when I heard about Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale by Japanese independent studio EasyGameStation, my feelings were akin to what my grandfather would have had about the Harvest Moon games, a conversation I imagine would have gone like
Me: It’s a farming simulator! You get to have your own farm!
Grandpa: Why would you want to play a game about farming? I’ve farmed every day of my life.
Me: But it’s got fairies and elves and magic and stuff to help you farm!
Grandpa: Get out of my house.
So, what do my years of retail experience have to say about a fantasy retail simulator?
It’s a blast. Hands down.
Recettear tells the story of a girl, Recette, whose father is missing. Her father had accrued a massive debt before disappearing, and so the savings and loan company has come to collect. Instead of outright foreclosing on the house, the S&L Rep, a fairy named Tear, suggests Recette turn her house into an item shop for wandering adventurers. Together, they convert the house into a shop, which Recette decides to name “Recettear” by combining the names of herself and her new fairy friend.
The game takes you through the details of buying items from your wholesaler, putting them on display, applying markup, and haggling. Every sale generates experience, and as you level up your ability to run a store, things begin to get more complicated. Patrons can begin to ask if you have a certain item “in the back,” they can place orders for the future, they will try to sell you items, and so forth.
On top of this, you can hire some of the town’s adventurers to explore nearby dungeons, which awards you items for sale in the store. The player controls these adventurers through the dungeon in a means that strikes me as somewhat roguelike despite the fact that it’s not turn-based. The player amasses items throughout the dungeon, leveling up the adventurer along the way (higher-level adventurers are more powerful, of course, but they also cost more to hire), and if the player is defeated, all but one of the collected items are lost.
This element can get rather annoying. Each dungeon has a boss battle at the end, and the mechanics of these battles can be difficult to ascertain in the first run through. So when you meet that giant blob and you can’t figure out how to damage him or avoid the places he’s going to stomp, you’re going to lose all your items and have to do the whole thing over again. It can get tedious, although the actual boss fight mechanics are more interesting than I would have expected.
Graphically, the game is somewhat minimalist. While in your store, you’re dealing mostly with still images in a cutesy animated Japanese style, while the dungeons are a 2D/3D hybrid reminiscent of the Playstation era. The graphics fit the theme quite well, and keep the system requirements pretty low–good news for my three-year-old laptop. The sound and music fit the style as well, remaining simplistic but somewhat unmemorable. There’s very little spoken dialogue, and it’s all snippets of Japanese anyway, so I’m not qualified to speak on behalf of its quality.
Where the game really shines, though, is in the story. With dialogue translated and localized by Carpe Fulgur, I caught myself referencing lines from the game more often than I cared to admit. After all, work is just plain better when it begins with a hearty “Capitalism, ho!” As the game progresses, the player gets to know the people of the town and all their little stories and struggles. You start thinking “Oh yeah, this guy, I bet I could charge him a little more for this sword after his big haul the other day” or “I need to cut this lady some slack until payday or she’ll stop showing up to buy helmets.”
The game can be annoyingly difficult sometimes. Your fairy loan shark has you set to make payments on a weekly basis, and if you can’t pony up, it’s game over. You get the equivalent of a new game plus when this happens, starting over from the beginning with all your merchandise and experience, but you’re back to your starting cash. You get a head start in getting the store going again, but if I hadn’t been able to skip all the dialogue and tutorials the second (and third, and fourth) time around, I would have quit. There is also the aforementioned difficulty in dungeons, where death can mean a fair amount of wasted (in-game) money and (in-game and real) time.
Petty annoyances aside, I had a massive amount of fun with this game. I’m not sure I would pay the $19.99 it runs on Steam, but if you can catch this gem on sale like I did, I highly recommend picking it up. There’s also a demo in case you can’t make up your mind.
The game is Windows-only, and available as digital distribution through Steam, GamersGate, and Impulse.